Gender-based Violence in Malawi
Having experienced the violence young women are subjected to first-hand in Malawi, Abikanile, 17, is passionate about speaking up for girls’ rights – and she’s not afraid to let the world know what it’s like to be a young woman in her country.
“I was nearly raped by seven boys after I finished playing netball,” reveals 17-year-old Abikanile from Malawi. “Thankfully, I escaped as I used the self-defense moves I learned from my Girl Guides Club.”
Sexual violence is a major issue in Malawi, particularly for young women. “I am not the only one who was nearly raped,” says Abikanile. “We hear of so many girls being raped by their fathers, cousins, and other men, only to discover that the police didn’t do anything about it when it was reported.”
For a young woman like Abikanile, who is passionate about girls’ rights, it’s painful to see the way women are treated in her country – particularly by those of the opposite sex.
“Boys just see girls as nothing,” she explains. “It’s hard being a teenager here. There are lots of men, also known as sugar daddies, who want to pay girls with money and clothes and school fees to sleep with them. This can end in pregnancy and then the men don’t want to know.”
Another major issue that can lead to early pregnancy is child marriage, which has a major impact on a girl’s right to an education – and their right to a life, too.
“I have seen many girls within my community being forced into early marriages which led to early school drop-outs and early pregnancies,” says Abikanile. “Some of the girls even died while giving birth as their bodies were not ready.”
After becoming an active member of a youth group when she was just 7, Abikanile wanted to campaign about girls’ rights in Malawi and the issues that girls were facing at school. “We would get together to discuss how to deal with this and stop this from happening,” she says.
“My goal in life is to make sure that girls get equal access to education with boys and when I am in New York, I will advocate about the importance of letting young people speak out about the issues they are going through. By campaigning, we give girls the confidence to know that things can change and that there are problems in other countries too,” she says.
The budding journalist cites her inspirational woman as Mary Shawa, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Gender in Malawi. “Mary has been advising me and other girls about the importance of education and how to ensure we have a voice no matter what the situation.”